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Friday, February 27, 2009

Macao

We got up quite early and took the ferry in order to get to Macao around 10.30 am, where Ze Carlos, an old friend from Coimbra, living in Macao, is waiting for us.

As we arrive he takes us to the huge Macao tower where are introduced to the local delicacies (similar to some we have back home) and have the chance to drink an almost decent espresso! As he drives us through the city before dropping us to go to work, we get really impressed with the buildings from the casinos. The Grand Lisboa is by far the most impressive!

This former portuguese colony was the last province of the old empire to split appart (in 1999). It has now a similar autonomy as Hong Kong, a status which will last until 2049. But Macao is now most well known for its casinos. It is the biggest gambling place in the world, bigger than Vegas! The casinos are everywhere and later in the day we pass by some of the international groups that have been investing strongly in Macao.

We leave Ze in Radio Macao and start walking around the city. We enter the Grand Lisboa just to look how it looks like. It's huge and a really beautiful building. We then decide to start the cultural part of the day and walk towards the old town. As we get closer and closer the feeling of familiarity gets bigger and bigger. All the names (streets, shops, banks, etc) are written both in Portuguese and Mandarin, the side walks are built in the portuguese traditional way, some buildings hold the traditional blue tiles on their walls. And when we reach the "Largo do Senado" we are back home! We start taking the lonely planets walking tour, which takes to the Cathedral and as we are about to leave the downtown we spot a portuguese library and decide to enter. We spent too much time there (I bought a poems book from Torga, one of my favorite writers) and Ze calls us saying he is ready to pick us up for lunch.

He drives us to the islands, a beautiful journey through what, according to him, will soon become a natural protection area. Great news I think. In a territory with so much construction and hardly any green areas it's good to have a place where you can relax and enjoy nature. Our destination is Fernando, a typical portuguese restaurant, settled by the sea. I don't think a dish of grilled sardines ever felt this good. We've been hardly eating any fish in this trip. Mostly vegetables, some meat and sea food and some chicken. We keep on talking about Macau, present and the future during the meal. It's great to get an inside view of the political situation and of the daily life conditions.

In the afternoon we visit the Farol da Guia (the first Lighthouse of southeastern Asia) and the fort around it, and also the ruins of St Pauls Church and the Museum of Macao. Our pace is a bit slower than usual maybe because we are not used to this humidity conditions. After the museum we get back to downtown and meet Ze, this time for a walking tour over some of the city characteristic squares and streets. The mixture between the new and the old is constant in this city. We eat a fantastic dinner in Restaurante Litoral, which serves traditional food from Macao. We say goodbye to Ze and thank him for using his free time for touring us around the city and get back to Hong Kong. The next two days will be spent exploring it.

I felt great in Macao. I found the mixture between the chinese and portuguese cultures quite interesting. It's almost 450 years of common history that are present in the streets of Macao, as Macao was only a small fishermen's village when the portuguese arrived. Now it holds 500000 people, of which only around 2000 portuguese are left. It's location, just an hour boat from Hong Kong, makes it an interesting place to visit.

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